by Jennieke Cohen
cover and synopsis from Goodreads
It’s 1830s England, and Culinarians—doyens who consult with society’s elite to create gorgeous food and confections—are the crème de la crème of high society.
Helena Higgins, top of her class at the Royal Academy, has a sharp demeanor and an even sharper palate—and knows stardom awaits her if she can produce greatness in her final year.
Penelope Pickering is going to prove the value of non-European cuisine to all of England. Her contemporaries may scorn her Filipina heritage and her dishes, but with her flawless social graces and culinary talents, Penelope is set to prove them wrong.
Elijah Little has nothing to his name but a truly excellent instinct for flavors. London merchants won’t allow a Jewish boy to own a shop, so he hawks his pasties for a shilling a piece to passersby—but he knows with training he can break into the highest echelon of society.
When Penelope and Helena meet Elijah, a golden opportunity arises: to pull off a project never seen before, and turn Elijah from a street vendor to a gentleman chef.
But Elijah’s transformation will have a greater impact on this trio than they originally realize—and mayhem, unseemly faux pas, and a little romance will all be a part of the delicious recipe.
My Fair Lady meets Chopped meets an alternate history England in My Fine Fellow.
Honestly, I feel like those comp titles above give you a good idea of the plot. In this gender-swapped retelling, Lady Helena and her friend Penelope raise street hawker Elijah Little to the rank of gentleman chef.
Food abounds in this novel, and fancy food at that. I grew up watching Food Network and work at a restaurant, and I still didn’t know some of the components in the dishes Helena, Penelope, and Elijah make. It was fun to read a book with food as one of the main focuses though.
The cooking competitions did feel a little dissonant with the time period. Yes, in this alternate England, Culinarians and fancy cooking are highly respected. But the competitions just felt a little too much like Food Network to feel completely cohesive with the setting.
While I haven’t actually ever seen My Fair Lady, after reading a summary, My Fine Fellow seems to hit the main plot beats of My Fairy Lady very well. So I can’t say for certain that it’s a good retelling, but it seems like one to me.
My Fine Fellow was a fun read, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it enough to give it a reread.
Cautions: several swear words; several British swear words; a few blasphemies; mild/moderate romance